CHICAGO - Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will promote healthier food and cut prices, a move that was eagerly endorsed by first lady Michelle Obama and one that could push food companies to overhaul more products.
The initiative comes as the world's largest retailer battles opposition to its expansion in urban areas like New York, Chicago and Washington by touting its ability to offer lower-priced and other healthy foods.
Obama, who leads an administration initiative to combat child obesity, joined Wal-Mart executives as they announced the plan Thursday in Washington.
"We are seeing a fundamental shift in our national conversation about how we make and sell food," she said. "That's something that wasn't happening just a year ago."
By 2015, Wal-Mart plans to cut the amount of sodium and added sugars in packaged foods. It will also remove any industrially produced trans fats from its goods. The company said it would work with suppliers to improve the nutritional quality of its own Great Value brand and national food brands.
It also said it could save shoppers about $1 billion a year on fresh produce by cutting costs, through changes such as buying more produce from local farms.
Some may have been surprised to see the Obama administration publicly endorsing the work of a company that has come under fire from labor unions and others for its business practices. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group often at odds with the food industry, also applauded Wal-Mart and urged the government to do more.
But Wal-Mart's move is likely to have the biggest impact because it can try to influence its food producers and the 140 million weekly visitors to its stores.